High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a common problem in people, but did you know that older animals, particularly cats, can also be affected? High blood pressure is nicknamed the silent killer as signs of trouble may not be seen until an advanced stage.
We recommend that all senior pets (8 years +) undergo an annual blood pressure check, along with a blood test and urine test, this means that we can detect any illness early and ensure the best chance of your pet leading a longer, happier, and healthier life.
How is blood pressure measured?
Blood pressure can be simply and quickly measured in the clinic and is very similar to when we have our blood pressure taken. A small cuff is placed on the patient’s leg or tail which is then inflated whilst a machine that amplifies the sound of the heartbeat is used. The cuff is inflated until we can no longer hear the heart beat. Slow deflation of the cuff while listening for return of the pulse allows the blood pressure to be measured.
Anxiety may lead to an elevation in blood pressure readings and this is known as the ‘white coat effect’. To help avoid this, the patient is given time to quietly relax and acclimatise to the environment at the clinic prior to the blood pressure being measured.
What about low blood pressure?
Low blood pressure is an uncommon finding in veterinary medicine. It can occur under anaesthesia or as a consequence of blood loss or a reaction to certain medications. All animals undergoing general anaesthesia at our clinics have their blood pressure monitored as standard throughout.
What causes high blood pressure?
High blood pressure is seen most commonly in older cats. It is thought that one in eight cats over the age of 9 years is affected. There are many possible causes but the most common are hyperthyroidism, chronic kidney disease and primary hypertension (high blood pressure).
Hypertension is less common in dogs, but can occur secondary to kidney disease, or may be associated with some hormone abnormalities or certain medications.
What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?
Hypertension is often a “silent” illness, with few, if any noticeable signs in the early stages. However, if left untreated the consequences can be very serious, including:
- Sudden blindness
- Brain effects such as dullness and even seizures
- Heart disease
- Worsening of pre-existing kidney disease
This is why routine blood pressure testing is so important, in order to make an early diagnosis and reduce the long-term effects of having high blood pressure.
How do we treat high Blood pressure?
If an underlying cause for the high blood pressure is found then this should be addressed and, where possible, corrected. We can begin to control the high blood pressure with medications, the dose of these medications often requires small adjustments in line with your pet’s blood pressure readings.
There is not as strong of a link between high salt foods and hypertension as with humans, however in most cases we would advise a diet lower in salt, such as a prescription kidney diet, or senior diet.
Once diagnosed, hypertension requires lifelong management with regular monitoring to ensure that the blood pressure stays well controlled and that your pet stays as happy and healthy as possible.